Alien Ice: The Incredible Blue Icebergs of Chile’s Torres del Paine

Two for the Road travel show blog blue icebergs of Torres del Paine Chile

Okay gang. So! Check this out.

First thing’s first – we’ll put the questions and debate to bed right out of the gate – none of the photos you’ll see in this post have been Photoshopped, colored, filtered or altered in any way, except for a little bit of cropping to get the photos to fit well on the page. Which is honestly hard to believe when you’re looking at ’em. But it’s true. And now, on to the story:

As you’ll see in this week’s very cool episode, we spent a full day exploring a lake called Grey Lake inside of Chile’s spectacular Torres del Paine National Park. And it was without a doubt one of the coolest days we can remember from all of our travels.

The day began with a kayaking excursion across the lake, in a quest to get up close to the big, beautiful icebergs that drift across the lake and down into the Grey River. And it was then we got our first-ever up close look at these amazing natural works of art, and our first chance to really study that other-worldly blue glow that was emanating from within many of them. It’s just mind-blowing at first glance, and it’s hard to convince your eyes and your brain that what you’re seeing is really real. And the longer you gaze at it, the stranger, more alien and more wonderful it seems.

Getting Up Close with the Icebergs on Grey Lake
Getting Up Close with the Icebergs on Grey Lake

By and large, icebergs are born from glaciers, in a process that’s known as “calving”. That’s when chunks of ice fall from the foot of a glacier and float off by themselves into the surrounding waters. Those floating chunks of ice can come in all sorts of crazy shapes, sizes, colors and textures, and they can range in size from relatively small to incredibly huge. In fact, the largest iceberg ever recorded was roughly 183 miles long and 23 miles wide! But to officially to be classified as an iceberg, the ice should measure at least 5 meters, or 16 feet, across.

And yes, it’s true that generally speaking only 10 percent of an iceberg is visible above the water’s surface. But on the rare occasion, as the iceberg slowly melts, its weight distribution can change and cause the iceberg to “flip” or “roll” in the water, sometimes revealing its mysterious and unseen underside. We’d actually seen that happen a couple of times during our adventure in Antarctica… but it was during that very groovy day in Torres del Paine when we really got to see this crazy phenomenon – and it’s spectacular results – up close.

After kayaking around the icebergs for an hour or two, we boarded a boat and headed farther up the lake to the spot where all those icebergs were being “born”: the foot of the mighty Grey Glacier, which comes to its dramatic end in the waters at the north end of the lake. And it was there we saw one of the most amazing, unbelievable things we’ve ever seen: a couple of icebergs that had flipped in front of the glacier, exposing their deep, bright blue underbellies. And it was absolutely stunning. Check it out:

Again, these photos have not been enhanced or re-touched in any way. That bright blue glow is completely natural and absolutely mind-blowing. Cool, huh?

Am I Bluuuuueeee? Yes I’m Bluuuuueeee….

So that, of course, begs the question: where does that blue color come from? How does that even happen? Well, there’s a lengthy scientific explanation of course. But we’ll do our best to whittle it down to the basics: essentially that blue color comes from ice that has been compacted under incredible pressure over hundreds or even thousands of years. That pressure over time squeezes out all the tiny pockets of air trapped within, and without that air (which is what makes ice appear white) the ice becomes incredibly clear. And it’s because of that clarity  – combined with the thickness of the ice – that the ice produces the blue “glow” you see, because the clear ice absorbs light from the red end of the color spectrum while letting the blue light pass through. And the result? Well, see the photos above. 🙂

So now you know! And hopefully you’ll get the chance yourself to see this incredible phenomenon one day. Because it really is just too crazy cool. And it’s a perfect reminder of just how wonderful and amazing and special our little planet truly is.

Ever seen a blue iceberg? Share your story in the comments below!

Cheers y’all! And happy travels!

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